Street Photography: Let’s Go To The Movies

April 3, 2014 § Leave a comment


The other day, just by chance, I happened to watch two of my favorite film noir movies ~~ Laura and Chinatown.  Both films have wonderful actors, directors and writers.  While I had seen both of these movies many times before, what really stood out to me now was the great cinematography.

Laura, released in 1944, was filmed completely on sound stages.   As was typical of that era it was shot in black and white and totally stylized in the noir tradition. But instead of gritty back street locations, it is played out in wealthy settings with shadows and high contrast black & white to enhance the dubious characters involved in a murder.   Joseph LaShelle was the cinematographer.  The film could never have achieved the darkness, the plot unreality without Mr. LaShelle’s elegant work.  His genius with lighting/shadows, close-ups and angles gives substance and mood to the story about obsession.  Deservedly, he won the Academy Award for Best Black and White Photography that year.

Just a quick note ~~ Stark contrast lighting techniques used in film noir had their roots in German Expressionism along with unexpected camera angles, evoking mystery and alienation.

If I had to be locked in a room with only one movie to watch, it would be Chinatown, released in 1974.  It is still a relevant and absorbing story about corruption.  The close-ups, long shots, angles, point of view and color of the film suck you right into the action and keep up the roller-coaster ride until the end.  All thanks to John Alonzo, who was known for his pioneering work in hand-held cinematography, lighting and high definition development.   Chinatown is a visual masterpiece and Mr. Alonzo was nominated for an Oscar.

So much can be learned from looking at movies.  Watch Laura to explore the weight of shadows.  Watch Chinatown for the POV (point of view). It is always from the main character’s (Jake Gittes) experience.  He is in every scene with the camera placed just behind him. We see everything as he sees it.

I have been hooked on film noir movies from the time I first saw “The Maltese Falcon”.  Film noir is seductive for me ~~ the turns, the twists, the ironies of life all wrapped up in a visual, moody poetry.  As an urban street photographer I am always learning from this genre.

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If you’re coming to NYC, book a unique street photography experience in avant-garde, gutsy Brooklyn ~~



Street Photography ~~ Quick Tips: Shooting Sunrises

March 20, 2014 § Leave a comment


Know the exact time of sunrise.  This way you can depart well in advance.

Remember, if you are going to shoot just as the sun comes up, it will be dark and you will need to use a tripod.

Make sure your white balance is on daylight.  Set your F-stop to 16 to capture optimum detail.

Review your images as you shoot.  This way you can adjust your exposure as the daylight increases.

Enjoy your adventure!


March 6, 2014 § 2 Comments

March is Women’s History Month in the United States.  But no history lessons today. Instead, I want you to meet talented women photographers who are out there alive and kicking up their collective street photography heels!

Lynn Saville, a master urban/night photographer, has had her work exhibited in museums and galleries in both the United States and Europe for over 20 years.  Ms. Saville’s photographs are also in the public collections of many museums ranging from the Museum of the City of Paris to the Brooklyn Museum of Art.   Two collections of her night images have been published, Acquainted With The Night  (Rizzolli) and Night Shift (Random House).   She captures the profound mystery and silence of night with unerring skill and instinct.  Her work is the reason I took up night photography as a way of life.

Sally Davies has lived and worked in New York’s East Village for the past 28 years.  For 20 years her photography has been exhibited in both solo and group collections all over the world.  Her work is in a host of private collections including Johnny Depp’s and Tim Burton’s.  And no wonder ~~ her street photography is intimate, lyrical and totally captures New York City.  Her every image tells a story.  They definitely speak to me!

Lara Wechsler gets it.  Her images of Coney Island are so real that you can smell the sweat, suntan lotion and beer.   She has been photographing New York for over 20 years and has a knack for capturing every day, slice-of-life moments.  As important as her talent, is the respect Ms. Wechsler has for the people, places and history of the areas where she shoots.  For me, that is a key component of being a street photographer.  I am glad she is part of my favorite borough, Brooklyn, USA!

Elaine Vallet lives and works in Paris.  Her photography is self-taught and her vision is unique.  She shoots primarily in black and white.  Her sense of light, tonalities and space evoke urban images that have a surreal quality.  And, too, her images are pensive references to the solitary existence of urban dwellers.  Ms. Vallet’s street photography has a poetic quality that reminds me of why I fell in love with photography.

Anna Delany lives in both New Zealand and in New York.  Ms. Delany’s images are gritty, black and white and in your face.  Tender and absolutely honest she connects to the complex, resilient spirit of people who live within deteriorating city neighborhoods.   She is absolutely a classic street photographer.

I celebrate not only these five women but all women urban photographers who get out there rain or shine, night and day to pursue their art.  It takes courage and passion.  And building the muscle that is both perseverance and inspiration.

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If you’re coming to NYC, book a unique street photography experience in avant garde, gutsy Brooklyn ~~

Street Photography: The Law

February 27, 2014 § 2 Comments

I have been harassed by security guards, from time to time, as I was photographing on New York City streets.

Once, I was on a public sidewalk trying to get a shot of the plaza in front of an office building.  The guard came over and asked that I stop since it was private property.  He was quite respectful but totally wrong in the legal sense.  Rather than waste time arguing, I went back and got the shot the next day.

Another instance took place when I was photographing a sunset from a street that bordered on Lincoln Center.  Again, a guard came over.  He was aggressive and rude, and told me I could not shoot because I was on Lincoln Center property.  When I told him I was standing on a public sidewalk and that I was shooting the sunset, he claimed that because there was a glass-enclosed advertisement standing on the sidewalk, it was Lincoln Center property.  I protested and was about to ask to see the head of security when I realized I was arguing with someone who had no idea of the law, was no more than about 20 years old and was impressed with the power of a security badge.  His supervisor may or may not have backed him up, but the amount of time and aggravation was not worth the effort.  I left.  The irony is that I had shot many times at Lincoln Center and never been stopped from taking photos.

I now carry a copy of the New York City rules regarding the Rights of Filmmakers and Photographers.  Clearly stated is an affirmation of the general right to film or photograph in public areas without the need for a permit unless it is an activity requiring the closing of an area along with the use of ancillary equipment.  Included in this copy is mention of the MTA rules that photography and video recording are legal as long as there are no tripods or lights.  I also carry a copy of the Police Department Operations Order, which is very specific about what they may or may not do.

Every city and country has laws regarding photography and privacy.  For instance, France has very strict laws about photographing people in the street.  Rule of thumb:  whether you are in your hometown or traveling, it is necessary to know the local laws.  And, of course, to use discretion when dealing with aggressive individuals.

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If you’re coming to NYC, book a unique street photography experience in avant garde, gutsy Brooklyn ~~

Street Photography: Roy DeCarava and Charles “One Shot” Harris

February 20, 2014 § Leave a comment

This week, with deep gratitude I give homage to two great photographers.

When a photographer makes you see through his eyes, a view filled with compassion and a deep connection to people and place ~~ you know that photographer is touched with divine grace.  One such photographer is Roy DeCarava.

Many years ago I chanced upon a book of photographs accompanied by a fictional narrative, The Sweet Flypaper of Life.  Mr. DeCarava was the photographer and Langston Hughes was the writer.  The story takes place in Harlem in the early 1950s and is told from a grandmother’s point of view as she talks about her life, her children and her grandchildren.  The people I met in these photographs and Mr. DeCarava’s photographic aesthetics changed the way I looked through a lens.  His use of shadows and gray tonalities is unparalleled.  But even more importantly, he changed the way I looked around me.

Born in Harlem, he lived there for most of his years.  He was trained as an artist but turned to photography when he realized the odds against an African American man being accepted into the art world.  For almost six decades he photographed the everyday life of black people in America.  In 1952 he won a Guggenheim Fellowship, the first African American to do so.  In 1955 The Sweet Flypaper of Life was published and became a bestseller.  That same year his work was also included in the landmark Family of Man exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art.

For many years Mr. DeCarava worked as a freelance magazine photographer for publications like Fortune and Newsweek.  He became an associate professor, then professor of art at Hunter College.  In 2006, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts.

Mr. DeCarava said his photography was about “The moment when all the forces fuse, when all is in equilibrium, that’s the eternal . . . that’s jazz . . . and that’s life.”

Charles “Teenie” Harris (also known as “One Shot”) was another great artist who spent his lifetime photographing his city, Pittsburgh.  He was just three years old when he was given a camera.  In his early 20s he bought his first professional camera; for more than 50 years he photographed African American life in then prospering Pittsburg, also known as “Steel City”.

By 1936 he was working as chief photojournalist for the Pittsburg Courier, which was an outstanding black news weekly.  He got the nickname “One Shot” because while other photographers would be shooting frame after frame of an event he came in and nailed it with “one shot.”

Whether on assignment, taking images of the urban landscape or working in his studio, Mr. Harris photographed everyone from ordinary people to visiting presidents (from Eisenhower to Kennedy), musicians (Louis Armstrong, Lena Horne, Billy Eckstein, Cab Calloway) and athletes (Joe Louis, Satchel Paige and Muhammed Ali).

The people of Pittsburgh were his people and he showed them in all their complexity:  working, playing and dreaming.  Steelworkers, bakers, railroad men and firefighters, children, old people, nightclubs and funerals, rich and poor:  he deftly, expertly witnessed with his camera and his heart.  Mr. Harris left an archive of over 80,000 images now housed at the Carnegie Museum of Art.  More importantly, he bequeathed a portrait of a city and a time that is no longer ~~ a portrait woven with dignity and understanding.

Just as Willy Ronis and Robert Doisneau spent their lives photographing their beloved city of Paris, Roy DeCarava and Charles Harris lovingly photographed their cities.   Their intimate connection to people and place, their pride and their dignity inspire me.

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If you’re coming to NYC, book a unique street photography experience in avant garde, gutsy Brooklyn ~~

Street Photography ~~ Quick Tips: Keeping Your Camera in Shape

February 13, 2014 § Leave a comment

Camera/lens cleaning kits are a very inexpensive and important part of your photography equipment.  Usually included are a bulb-style air blower, soft micro-fiber cloth, lens tissue and camera lens cleaner.  Regular cleaning of the lens, view finder and LCD monitor extends the life of your camera.

The method is simple.  Use the blower to remove any dust.  For smudges use a lens tissue or micro fiber cloth folded with a bit of lens cleaner (never dry clean a lens).  Starting from the center gently wipe the lens surface in a circular motion outwards.  Gently dry with lens paper.  Never ever apply lens fluid directly to any part of your camera.

Do not use facial tissue, paper towels, or any type of coarse or abrasive material.

If there is dust on your DSLR sensor (even with the self-cleaning cameras dust can invade), bring it into a professional service to have it cleaned.  I’ve done it and have never regretted the small service charge.

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Even though it’s still snowing here in New York City, warmer weather is on its way.  If you’re coming to NYC, book a unique street photography experience in avant garde, gutsy Brooklyn ~~


Street Photography: The Photo League

February 6, 2014 § Leave a comment

Long before Flickr, 500px, Tumblr and all the other photo websites, there were photography clubs.  One of the most famous was The Photo League in New York City.

Deep into the Depression, the League was founded in1936 and headquartered on East Twenty-First Street in Manhattan.  It was an outgrowth of the earlier radical Film and Photo League, organized in 1930 and sponsored by the International Workers’ Relief with the purpose of producing films about the class struggle in the United States.  By 1936 there was a split — the Photo League became a separate entity.

Documenting urban life was the primary focus for the volunteer members of the League.  Originally this urban photography reflected a Progressive social agenda during a time when approximately 10 million people were unemployed and soup kitchens were an everyday experience.  Photography projects included in-depth, street-by-street views of the struggle of people in neighborhoods from Harlem to the Bowery.

Many members were young and idealistic.  Classes were offered to those wanting to learn photography.  Exhibitions and lectures were part of the League’s mission.

As the 1930s ended there was an evolution into more expressive photographic viewpoints by the members of the League.  The success of the League continued into the 1940’s.  However, by the end of World War II when the “red-scare” became a national psychosis, the FBI accused the organization of being a Communist front for activities which were anti-American.  As with hundreds of people in the arts, these charges were absolutely unfounded.  By 1951 the League was finished.

What “McCarthyism” and the House Un-American Activities Committee could not destroy is a vast collection of iconic images from the photographers connected to the Photo League during its sixteen-year existence.  The number of photographers who were members, students, lecturers or exhibitors could fill an encyclopedia ~~ Berenice Abbott, Sid Grossman, Eliot Elisofon, Morris Engel, Ruth Orkin, Robert Frank, W. Eugene Smith, Helen Levitt, Margaret Bourke-White, Weegee, Lisette Model, Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, Richard Avedon and Robert Capa.  Henri Cartier-Bresson also lectured at the League during the two years he lived in the United States.

I wish I had been there to be a part of this incredible organization.

Please feel free to add your comments or ask questions.

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